Meanwhile, departments and municipalities have become top-heavy because junior posts are not being filled. This means that skills are not being developed for the next generation of leaders.
Worse, many public-service bodies are overreliant on outside consultants. While using consultants to address specific skills gaps might be necessary to get the job done in the short term, it does not address the problem of making sure that the next generation of senior public servants is being developed.
To improve capacity and performance, we need a strategy that will not only attract young people with potential, but also retain them by developing their skills and sustaining their morale. To ensure the public service and local government become employers of choice, greater emphasis should be placed on potential and a passion for development and service.
Recruitment should focus not just on the skills people have today, but also on those they could develop in the public service. This means first recruiting dedicated young people and then ensuring their skills are developed, with career progression linked to performance.
So we have recommended initiating a formalised graduate recruitment scheme, which could play a critical role in building a skilled and professional public service.
We propose a separate graduate recruitment scheme for local government - where skills shortages are at their most severe - with a view to promoting local government as a stimulating and rewarding career path in its own right.
The aim of the proposals is to bring some uniformity to the recruitment process. Graduate recruitment now consists of a range of internship schemes, each one linked to a specific department.
In the best cases, these provide an entry point for promising people and can be the start of fruitful careers.
However, these schemes work best in departments that are already performing well. The internships aren't well publicised either, and are on too small a scale to transform perceptions of the public service as a good career option.
A formalised recruitment scheme could be marketed widely, target universities and set up a single channel for job applications anywhere in the public service.
However, a graduate recruitment programme hires people on the basis of potential, and therefore the public service needs to provide adequate mechanisms for learning and support. It is vital that graduate recruits are given focused areas of responsibility which enable them to develop and take responsibility for particular projects early in their career.
We suggest that while recruitment be centralised, applicants should be employed in specific departments or municipalities where they can develop their expertise in a particular field.
Improving recruitment and the way career paths are mapped out for staff could deliver major benefits, but not a quick fix. It will deliver results - but only if graduates want to apply, and government bodies want to recruit them. So we suggest that the schemes for national and local government start small and expand with demand.
Our proposals on how to make young South Africans interested in working for the state are part of a range of suggestions the commission has made on improving the performance of the public service. We know we need more than one intervention.
We have also put forward ideas on improving the standards of management and training, and achieving greater clarity about the relationship between the political and administrative processes. We believe our proposals would help build a public service capable of tackling our most pressing problems and serving those in society who most need the state's support.